Careers Advice Psychologist: “We turn our hand to many things”

Sylvie Franz (Photo: Aurélie Despont) Sylvie Franz (Photo: Aurélie Despont)

Creativity, innovative ideas and searching for solutions are all part of the daily routine of Sylvie Franz who helps people to reflect on and take crucial decisions for their future careers.

Daniela (editor’s note, not her real name) is 30 years old and a qualified engineer. It is a career she chose without her heart really being in it and asking herself key questions. The young woman followed the path set out for her by her father, who is also an engineer. She is therefore not entirely satisfied with the field she is currently working in – construction. Her wide-ranging interests, especially artistic ones, are resurfacing and posing questions.

Careers advice psychologists are called in to disentangle this type of situation. The field is often incorrectly associated with the time when young people leave school and decide on their future careers. This is a narrow view, according to the experts. “Today we talk about a life-design paradigm. This means life-long support. Learning never stops,” explained Sylvie Franz, a careers advice psychologist. Career paths have become less linear in our contemporary societies. Today people perform different jobs through the course of their lifetimes. These shifts have also changed the work of the professionals dealing with them. Demand for adult careers guidance – such as in the case of Daniela – is currently increasing significantly. “Our aim is to encourage people to reflect and help them to look ahead when making choices. Their limitations and capabilities are also taken into account,” pointed out Sylvie Franz.

The cases are extremely wide-ranging and do not necessarily result in a career change. Making sense of their path enables some people to reaffirm their choice and remain in the same position. “The people who come to see us often find themselves in a rut. They cannot see the next step ahead. Through the support and tools we offer, we seek to open up a range of options. ”

Various jobs in tandem

After gaining her school-leaving qualifications in the sciences, Sylvie Franz realised that she was not cut out to do a maths-based degree. She experienced her first career shift. “I was already interested in psychology at that stage. But I thought I’d focus on it later after having gained some life experience.” After dropping out of a course at the business school (HEC) of the University of Lausanne, she set off for London to learn English. She began studying psychology when she returned. Sylvie Franz soon found herself fascinated by the psychology of counselling and guidance. “The idea of working on short tasks as part of an approach focused on people’s abilities greatly appealed to me straightaway."

As a young graduate, she took up a position with the careers guidance service in Geneva. “I learned a great deal working in the various units,” she recalled. At the same time, the psychologist kept aside a small proportion of her time for research at the University of Lausanne. She soon began supervising the students during their practical training in psychological consultation on educational and careers guidance and career management. After a one-year paid internship in Canada, she obtained her FSP qualifications as a psychologist specialising in careers and human resources development.

“During a short period of unemployment, I had the opportunity myself to evaluate my skills set with Corref in Lausanne,” she recalled. This proved an extremely enriching experience which allowed her to kill two birds with one stone. Corref, a private careers guidance organisation, later offered her a position as a careers guidance psychologist. “I’ve always enjoyed doing different complementary jobs in tandem,” she revealed. She is now supervising the practical training of students at the psychological consultation department at the University of Lausanne, while still dedicating some of her time to actually working in careers guidance with Corref. Here the psychologist also assists groups of women seeking to re-enter the working world after a career break to look after their children, for example.

Exercising the right to make a choice

In her profession, Sylvie Franz particularly enjoys the variety of roles and tasks that she performs. “It often feels like we have to turn our hand to many things,” she revealed. “Even with extensive experience, we still have to show creativity, come up with innovative ideas and seek solutions to problems that are becoming increasingly complex.” In the case of Daniela, for example, the psychologist will work with the young woman on her career and life path, enabling her to see herself in a different light. “Families can have a major influence. Freeing herself from these constraints will allow her to exercise the right to make a choice that meets her own expectations."

Sylvie Franz has met people asking themselves similar questions between five and eight times, as she conducts around one interview each week. “We start by analysing the person’s needs, understanding their situation and working on their career history using a lifeline.” The careers advice psychologist then carries out various tasks – in line with requirements – such as a skills assessment, an evaluation of values or an analysis of their interests. “We also use quantitative questionnaires which allow us to compare the results with a reference population as well as more qualitative or exploratory tools, such as values-related card games or experience analysis sheets.” This work is started during the consultation and followed up at home until the next session. It has nothing to do with the multiple-choice questionnaires that lots of people remember completing when they were young. “The tools have become much more sophisticated,” she indicated.

While many of the people she advises are well-motivated and receptive, they can sometimes also be more reticent. In particular, these include youngsters sent by their parents who do not understand why they should worry about their choices and adults referred by the regional employment offices (ORP) or the invalidity insurance office (OAI). “In these cases, there are often other issued to address before moving on to career guidance or reorientation,” observed Sylvie Franz. To start with, this may involve coming to terms with the loss of a previous job or a deterioration in health. “That’s what makes it such a fascinating job. We take people as they come with or without pre-existing psychological issues.” 

The psychologist finds following people’s progress and seeing them find solutions very rewarding. She is nonetheless also occasionally confronted with more demanding situations in which she feels powerless. “Some people are part of an external system or social circumstances which mean there is little room for manoeuvre. For instance, you cannot suggest that someone undertakes training which they cannot afford to pay for. “The people who attend therefore have to accept that their expectations cannot be systematically met. Fortunately, we don’t have to shatter people’s dreams too often,” Sylvie Franz smiled. The psychologist makes every effort to develop a plan with the person receiving advice and to provide them with the tools required to pursue their goals independently. “We sow seeds which we hope will sprout and grow.”   

Name: Sylvie Franz
Profession: FSP psychologist specialised in career and human resources development, lecturer and researcher at the UNIL
Skills: listening, creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, analytical skills, teaching ability, developing links